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How do you search an elevator for a lost mitten?

January 15, 2013

This is a reenactment.

This morning, I arrived at my office and noticed that I was missing a mitten.

After spitting a few expletives under my breath, I began to mentally retrace my steps. I remembered taking the mittens off as I entered the building, so I knew I hadn’t dropped them on the sidewalk or left them on the bus. I remembered getting on the elevator. It must be lying on the floor of the elevator, I thought, with triumph. I’ll just go back and get it.

The trouble is my office building has four elevators. I couldn’t remember which elevator I’d taken. And, even if I could’ve remembered, how could I purposefully get on that particular elevator. You press the button, and whichever elevator is available first opens its doors.

There was a time in my life when I could’ve calculated the permutation or combination or whatever to tell me the odds of getting the right elevator with my mitten in it. This morning, I just thought, “This is going to take a long time.”

I headed back to the elevators to begin having fun with probability. Then, I saw my mitten lying on the floor in the hallway outside my office. I smiled, grabbed it, and went back to my office.

And now, the question still stands: How do you search an elevator for a lost mitten?


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